Young girls from Pakistan’s Christian minority have become the primary targets of child bride trafficking rings, involving brokers, priests, and poor families, according to the Associated Press.
The Federal Investigation Agency of Pakistan arrested eight Chinese and four Pakistani citizens for trafficking girls into China, where they were then made to work as prostitutes, Geo TV reported on May 6.
The demand for child brides in China is driven by the surplus of men now of marrying age in the country, which also has a shortage of women due to the nation’s one-child policy and preference for male children.
Young Christian girls were specifically sought out by the trafficking ring because Pakistan’s Christians are amongst the country's most impoverished groups and female children are often viewed as a financial burden due to patriarchal beliefs and traditions embedded deep within the society.
In essence, one country’s abundance of females and poor families desperately attempting to survive has become the answer to the great demand for marriageable women in another.
Christian activist Saleem Iqbal estimates that, since October 2018 when the market gained momentum, 750 to 1,000 girls have been married off to Chinese men seeking foreign brides, the Associated Press reported.
Most of these girls are married unwillingly, and their parents are not aware they may be endangering the lives of their daughters.
Brokers paid Christian clerics to convince poor families to marry off their daughters, some as young as 13, for large sums of money. These families were manipulated, according to the report, into believing that these men were wealthy Christians who could provide better lives for their daughters, though usually they were also poor, hailing from the rural areas of China.
"This is human smuggling," Ijaz Alam Augustine, human rights and minorities minister of Punjab, Pakistan, told the AP. "Greed is really responsible for these marriages ... I have met with some of these girls and they are very poor."
Chinese grooms paid brokers, priests, and parents a total of $3,500-$5,000 on average, according to the Associated Press. But some families never receive the money they were promised in exchange for their daughters.
Some pastors, child brides, parents, and activists are now speaking out against these operations.
A Human Rights Watch statement released on April 26 highlighted similar trafficking patterns documented in other Asian countries — including Myanmar, Laos, North Korea, and Vietnam — through which girls and women were taken to China as brides and subjected to sexual slavery.
“Both Pakistan and China should take seriously increasing evidence that Pakistani women and girls are at risk of sexual slavery in China and take effective measures to end bride trafficking,” the statement concluded.
The statement also asserted that Chinese men have been buying Pakistani brides for a number of years, citing a Nikkei Asian Review report.
These reports of trafficking emerged as Pakistan continues to battle within its government to eradicate child marriage by raising the legal marrying age from 16 to 18.
According to the Gulf News, the Senate of Pakistan passed a bill to raise the minimum age earlier this month, but it was rejected by the ministers of the country’s ruling party, some of whom claimed the bill went against the tenets of Islam.
The bill is now in the hands of the National Assembly Committee, tasked with re-examining and submitting the bill to the National Assembly for approval again after conferring with the country’s Council of Islamic Ideology.